ACCLAIMED Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor, who will take up the inaugural Frank McCourt chair in creative writing at the University of Limerick in September, has said he “could not resist” applying for the role when it came up.
The Star of the Sea author, whose eighth novel, The Thrill of it All, was released this week, beat off stiff competition from number of renowned Irish writers to land the five-year term, which has an annual salary starting from €106,516 and rising to €136,276.
Mr O’Connor will officially join the faculty of arts, humanities and social sciences and teach students on the new MA in Creative Writing from September.
“I am thrilled to have the job and I love teaching. Any time that I have done it throughout my career, and I have taught every four or five years, I have just found it so enriching, I have learnt so much from it,” he said, a reference to a previous spell as Harman Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Baruch College, City University of New York.
“When the UL job came up, I just could not resist applying for it. It is a new department, being built from the ground up. Any dealings I have ever had with the college have been wonderful, so I am just delighted to have it as part of my life.”
Intensive work has already begun on selecting candidates - between 6 and 10 most likely - for the course and Joseph said he wants “people who have a realistic chance of being published, or having some kind of career in writing, because that is how the course will thrive”.
“I am interviewing a lot of people and reading a lot of applications and putting together what I think is going to be a really interesting group,” he says.
The author has previously been writer in residence at UCD, but said the new MA in UL will have “something different” to those on offer in other institutions.
“My job is to start this department from the ground up, and I suppose to give Creative Writing at UL something that the other courses that have been going for a long time, don’t have,” he explained.
“The publishing landscape has changed so much, even over the last five years, let alone ten. If you told someone ten years ago that most people would be reading on Kindle or downloading books – I certainly wouldn’t have believed it.
“Self-publishing is back in a very big way, mainstream publishing is in crisis, authors’ advances are falling, but at the same time it has never been easier in some ways to master the technology of publishing a book.
“There are more opportunities, there are more challenges, the whole landscape is different, and we are the first course on the island of Ireland to begin in that context.”
Of Frank McCourt, whose name has been etched on the chair he now occupies, O’Connor has the utmost respect.
Frank’s widow Ellen McCourt, who sat on an eight-person interview panel over two days to select the incoming author for the role, paid tribute to him when he landed the position.
“He has he whole package: a beautiful writer, passionate teacher and a charismatic personality who will make an excellent ambassador for the University,” she said.
“He is also compassionate, curious, fearless and mischievous. All qualities Frank admired. Joseph is an excellent and exciting choice for the chair.”
Joseph has deep affection for the Angela’s Ashes and Pulitzer Prize winning author.
“I knew Frank. He was a lovely man and he was genuinely extremely encouraging to young writers,” said O’Connor.
“It is very much part of having the job for me, is that I am not going to let that legacy down. I have made a commitment that I am not going to disrespect anything with Frank’s name on it, so I am going to give this job absolutely everything I have got.”
Part of the job will be to foster linkages between the artistic and cultural community in Limerick and the University and O’Connor, already involved with the local literary festival and City of Culture literary strand says he is “really looking forward to all of that and getting literature out there, and not just within the walls of the college”.